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LAST MODIFIED ON: 13/08/2020 - 13:45
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Responsibility for most policies to create a socially inclusive Northern Ireland, that is, one in which opportunities are shared equally and are not dependent on an individual's family background or geographical location, is held by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
General distribution of responsibilities
Northern Ireland Executive
Following the restructuring of government departments in 2017, the main departments with elements of policy responsibility relating to social inclusion in Northern Ireland are:
- The Executive Office, which is responsible for delivering social change in key social policy areas, including socio-economic deprivation. It established the Delivering Social Change Framework (see below).
- The Department of Education, which is responsible for pre-school primary and post primary education services, in addition to special education and the youth service. The Department's main goals are to raise standards for all and close the performance gap and increase access and equity.
- The Department for Communities, which oversees community cohesion; social inclusion; community regeneration and housing; maximising public benefits from the culture, arts and leisure sectors; and tackling disadvantage and promoting equality of opportunity by reducing poverty, promoting and protecting the interests of children, and other socially excluded groups and addressing inequality and disadvantage.
- The Department for the Economy, which is responsible for further and higher education and employment and skills programmes, including apprenticeships amongst other areas.
The Education Authority (EA), which replaced the Education and Library Boards in April 2015), is responsible for ensuring that effective primary and secondary education services are available to meet the needs of children and young people across Northern Ireland. The EA also supports the provision of youth services. It must secure provision of adequate facilities for recreational, social, physical, cultural and youth service activities and for services ancillary to education. These duties were placed on ELBs by the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 and transferred to the Authority through the Education Act (Northern Ireland) 2014.
Health and Social Care Trusts are responsible for the safety and welfare of 'children in need' in their respective areas. 'Children in need' are defined as children under the age of 18 who need the support of services: to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health; to prevent them from suffering harm to their health or development; or because they are disabled.
The Commissioner for Children and Young People (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 established the office of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY); the Commissioner has a statutory remit to safeguard and promote the best interests and rights of children and young people. It does this by:
- encouraging children and young people to participate in the decisions that affect them
- advising Government on the services, policies and legislation it provides for children and young people
- monitoring Government activities related to children and young people and holding it to accountable
publishing policy papers about key issues affecting children and young people, alongside recommendations for action.
The Northern Ireland Executive Office is responsible for the effective operation of Northern Ireland government institutions in the delivery of the relevant Programme for Government. It therefore oversees cross-departmental programmes and initiatives.
The Delivering Social Change framework was set up by the Northern Ireland Executive to tackle poverty and social exclusion in 2012. It represented a new level of joined-up working by Ministers and senior officials across Executive departments to drive through initiatives which would achieve a long-term reduction in poverty across all ages and an improvement in children and young people’s health, wellbeing and life opportunities. Its associated Delivering Social Change Fund was established to enable the Executive to respond quickly and in a more flexible way to urgent social need. The Fund supports the:
- Social Investment Fund
- Delivering Social Change Signature Programmes
Areas covered by the six initial Delivering Social Change Signature Programmes included tackling poverty and improving children’s health, well-being, educational and life opportunities.
Further signature programmes were announced in September 2014. Jointly funded by the NI Executive and The Atlantic Philanthropies, they include:
- early intervention services for young families in need of support
- expansion of shared education
- services for people with dementia and their families and careers.
In 2015, the Children's Services and Co-operation Act received royal assent. The Act places a duty on children's authorities, including different government departments and agencies, to co-operate when delivering services aimed at improving the wellbeing of children and young people. The Act also requires the Northern Ireland executive to develop a children and young person's strategy which lays out their plans for achieving improvements in the wellbeing of children and young people; see the article entitled 'Strategy for the Social Inclusion of Young People' for further details. The Act defines 'well being' as covering the following:
- physical and mental health
- the enjoyment of play and leisure
- learning and achievement
- living in safety and with stability
- economic and environmental wellbeing
- making a positive contribution to society
- living in a society which respects their rights, living in a society in which equality of opportunity and good relations are promoted.
Furthermore, in 2016, the Irish Government published A Programme for a Partnership Government, which included commitments to work with the Northern Ireland Executive to agree and implement cross-border projects. The commitments made to youth include:
- developing prevention and early intervention policies to improve the life outcomes of children;
- ensuring budgets and policies contribute toward advancing equality, reducing poverty, and strengthening economic and social rights;
- preventing youth homelessness;
- establishing a National Taskforce on Youth Mental Health as a prevention strategy for youth mental health and emotional well-being (see ‘Health care’ in the article on ‘Access to quality services’);
- expanding the Youth Services to provide more support to young people;
- supporting early school leavers into employment, and providing more wider opportunities;
- giving vulnerable young people, with care needs (like special education, disability, or juvenile justice) the best opportunity to thrive in society;
- develop an LGBT Youth Strategy, which will encompass areas including, education, youth services and mental health (see ‘Programmes for vulnerable young people’ in the article on ‘Inclusive programmes for young people’);
- tackle educational disadvantage, and improve social mobility.